- "But, rest assured, we will tolerate no guerrillas in the casinos or the swimming pools."
- ―Fulgencio Batista[src]
Fulgencio Batista was the dictator of Cuba in the 1950s.
Batista's corrupt and repressive regime systematically profited from the exploitation of Cuba's commercial interests, by negotiating lucrative relationships with the American Mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution rackets in Havana, and with large multinational American corporations that had invested considerable amounts of money into Cuba.
Relationship with organized crime
Batista established lasting relationships with organized crime, notably with American mobsters Hyman Roth, Carlo Tramonti, Santo Virgilio and Michael Corleone. Batista and Roth formed a friendship and business relationship that flourished for a decade.
Batista encouraged large-scale gambling in Havana, announcing in 1955 that Cuba would grant a gaming license to anyone who invested US$1 million in a hotel or $200,000 in a new nightclub – and that the government would provide matching public funds for construction, a 10-year exemption from taxes, and impose no duties on imports of equipment and furnishings for new hotels. From each casino the government was to receive $250,000 for the license and a percentage of the profits. The policy waived the background checks that were required for casino operations in the United States and opened the door for casino investors with illegally obtained sources of funding. Cuban contractors with the right connections made windfalls by importing, duty-free, more materials than were needed for new hotels and selling the surplus to others. Some believe that additional "under the table" fees were required to obtain the casino license, but such beliefs have remained unproven rumors.
Unlike some second-rate crime families who resorted to cheating to turn a profit in gambling, there was no need for dirty tricks in Cuba. A combination of skilled pit bosses (many who were sent by the bosses from the States) and a reputation as a high-class resort assured the house of winning. Havana proved very profitable for gambling along with its photogenic vacation spots, and became known as "Latin Las Vegas".
Roth became a prominent figure in Cuba's gambling operations, and exerted influence over Batista's casino policies. As the new hotels, nightclubs, and casinos opened Batista wasted no time collecting his share of the profits. Roth was said to have personally contributed millions of dollars per year to Batista's Swiss bank accounts.
At a meeting where Michael Corleone was present, UTT Corporation presented Batista with a gold plated telephone in gratitude for acting upon a recommendation of the U.S. government, who had been urging Batista to lift price controls on Cuba's telephone exchanges, which severely limited the ability of Cuban telephone operators to place international calls due to lack of revenue. This helped to facilitate communications between Cuba and the United States, as well as national calls among Cubans, and phone bills better reflected the cost of service. However, many ordinary Cubans saw increases in their phone subscription fees.
In 1959, Batista's regime was fighting against the guerrilla forces of Fidel Castro. A couple of hours into the New Year's party, Batista gets bad news from a military aide, then makes an annoucement that the rebels have seized the cities of Santiago and Guantanamo, and are now making their way to Havana. Batista declares his resignation, then promptly flees Cuba, which cripples Hyman Roth's power structure. It also causes the businesses to lose everything they have invested in Cuba, as well as the Mafia families to lose a bundle (in particular their Cuban casinos). There were various CIA funded attempts to return him to power, notably through the assassination of Castro by Carmine Marino, but they all failed.
Behind the scenes
He is mentioned in the book about the Corleones attempting to protect him during a 1955 attempt on his life by the communists, which fails. Batista is then told of this and expresses regret that a "fine man in his service" is now dead, revealing the communists had killed a body double.
In actuality, Batista did have a gold telephone. As in the film, it was presented to him out of gratitude for abolishing price controls. However, it was a gift from Atlantic Telegraph & Telephone, b.k.a. AT&T. The "UTT" mentioned in the film is fictional, and was likely made up to avoid copyright violations. Following the Cuban Revoltion, the actual gold telephone was seized. Today it is in a museum to the Cuban Revolution.
|President of Cuba|